Daniel Sullivan, a linguistics professor, is at a place in his life that calls for reviewing past actions and contemplating where he wants to go next.
The story begins in 2010, in Donegal, Ireland, where Daniel is living with his wife Claudette and their two children: Marithe, 6, and the baby, Calvin. Claudette has an older child named Ari, from a relationship years before with a man who directed her in films.
Claudette was a well-known film star who decided to escape that life, and now tries to stay out of sight, a recluse, in this remote Irish home, with twelve gates to maneuver in order to get in or out. She also wears a strange combination of layered outfits, a disguise of sorts.
When Daniel decides to go to his father’s 90th birthday party in Brooklyn, of course Claudette stays behind. She doesn’t leave the house very often, but when she does, she goes to Paris, where her mother lives. The mother that hates Daniel.
This Must Be the Place is a layered tale of one man’s journey, his relationships, his mistakes, and how he is trying to correct some of them. The story takes us back to the places where Daniel has lived and to the relationships he has left behind. He reconnects with his two older children, Niall and Phoebe, living in LA. Their mother did everything in her power—and succeeded—in keeping him from these children, even though he tried repeatedly to enforce the custody order that she ignored. A bitter vengeful woman, we don’t see her in the book, except through the eyes of others. I liked watching their reunion, and how he tried to explain his absence, while they, especially Phoebe, showed him very little understanding. Until finally he seemed to have broken down the barriers.
Sometimes the back and forth sweep through time gave me a feeling of whiplash; just as I would be settling into the current story, I would find myself catapulted back to the 1980s or 1990s. While adding these pieces and tidbits to the overall journey was important, I would have appreciated a smoother transition. But perhaps we are meant to be startled and jolted, just as Daniel himself experiences the pain of his search into the past, and his effort to bring meaning to his present life.
Occasionally the author spins us into the future, showing us what will happen to some of the characters. I especially disliked these forward thrusts, as I would then feel worried about the sad things that lay ahead for someone I had come to love.
Overall, I enjoyed Daniel’s journey, and the ups and downs of his relationship with Claudette, and how we are left wondering if they will find their way back together after the worst of their separations. Until the very last page, I did wonder. A satisfying read that could have been a bit less meandering, but despite the convoluted journey, here is my happy rating: